Respect Me is Scotland's anti-bullying service. Here, Respect Me's communications manager, Pamela Graham, offers parents advice on bullying: how to recognise it and how to help children caught up in it
How do I know if it’s bullying?
When we talk about bullying we are talking about something that is both behaviour and impact. Behaviour that can make people feel hurt, frightened, scared, left out or worried - and the impact of this behaviour leaves them feeling less in control of themselves.
We know that bullying takes something away from people; that is one of the things that makes it different from other behaviours. It takes away people’s ability to feel in control of themselves and to take effective action. We call this our agency. Bullying strips away a person’s capacity for agency.
It’s important to remember this when we respond to bullying behaviour. If we can accept that it takes something away from someone, our focus has to be on helping them to get it back; helping them get back that feeling of being in control and being themselves again. That’s why we have to involve young people in what they want to happen, what they would like to happen, and what they are worried about happening. And sometimes we need to take a lead from them as to what pace we go at. If we can do that, we can help restore that feeling of being in control.
What advice should I give?
There is never one, single, answer when it comes to bullying, it’s about knowing how to think about it and how to approach it.
Ask yourself: What’s the behaviour? What’s the impact? What do I need to do about it?
Sometimes you have to ask your child, ‘What do you want to happen?’ ‘Tell me what you have done so far?’ ‘What would you like me to do?’ ‘What do you think would happen if I was to go up to the school and talk to them about it?’
It’s about exploring options; thinking about what you can do and sometimes having to say, as a parent, ‘look if I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in’, and explain why you are doing it.
We should always take a moment, pause and think, ‘how do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’, because it’s that sense of being in control that has been taken from them, and that has to focus your response.
For more advice and informatioin, watch these films:
Practical steps to take if your child is being bullied at school
Have you spoken to your child about what is going on?
YES Talk to them again and try to find out what they would like you to do. It is important that they feel involved in plans to resolve the bullying. If you haven't already done so then perhaps take notes about the incidents - names, dates, locations, or text/email messages if relevant
NO Sit down with them and try to establish what is actually going on. Just talking things through and making you aware of what’s going on can be enough for some children and young people. If they want you to do something, listen and involve them in what the steps you decide to take.
Have they told any adults at school that they are being bullied?
YES When did they tell? Has anything happened since they told? The first action is to allow schools time to sort out bullying incidents. Sometimes this may take longer than you would like it to, so you are within your rights to call the school and ask them what they are doing. Remember that it is always better to work with the school in these instances, and ask them to keep you up to date with any progress.
NO You need to ensure that the school is fully aware of all bullying-related incidents. Try to find out why your child hasn’t felt able to tell anyone and decide between you who should inform the school - you may decide to speak to the school on their behalf, go with them or encourage them to speak to someone themselves. Even if you speak for them, they will have to be prepared to speak to a teacher or worker themselves, so make sure they know this.
Does the school seem to be tackling the claim of bullying effectively?
YES Keep in contact with the school. What strategies do they seem to be trying in order to bring a successful conclusion for everyone involved? Don't automatically expect them to exclude the person(s) involved, schools often employ a variety of methods to try to prevent and tackle bullying. Some of these strategies may have an immediate effect and some may take longer.
Agree that you will both be watchful of your child for the next few weeks to ensure that you pick up on any changes in behaviour. Keep talking to them to find out how they are feeling and gauge whether or not they may need further support.
NO Identify the most appropriate person in the school to talk to. This is likely to be a Head of House, Pupil/Pastoral Support Teacher or Head Teacher/Deputy Head Teacher. Ask for a meeting with them to discuss the allegations. Be prepared to be persistent and, where possible, demand a face to face meeting. It's a good idea to ask for a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy before the meeting so you can familiarise yourself with it. It is recommended that all schools in Scotland have an anti-bullying policy but they do not have a legal obligation to have one. If the school doesn’t have a policy, ask for a copy of your local authority’s policy. In England and Wales all state schools (not private schools) are legally required to have a behaviour policy in place which includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils.
When you meet with the school, ask them to commit to a strategy for dealing with the allegations. Although they can discuss these allegations quite openly, they can't talk in any detail about the person(s) carrying out the bullying behaviour as they have to respect their confidentiality as well as that of the child/young person being bullied.
The school should not suggest that it is your child’s fault or that your child should change their behaviour. Try to keep any relationship with the school on a positive basis - this will be more beneficial to all parties in the long run.
The bullying has been going on for some time now and doesn't seem to end.
YES Try to meet with the school again. It may be time to demand that action is taken. If you aren't making any progress with the school or if you don't feel the allegations are being taken seriously, you can contact someone at the Local Authority with your concerns. There should be a poster in the school reception detailing what to do if you have a complaint.
You are entitled to lodge a complaint about the school and their response to the bullying allegations if you are unhappy with how they are dealing with the situation. The Local Authority should be able to support you in the next steps with your complaint. If you are still not satisfied then contact the Scottish Child Law Centre for information on your legal rights . If you are in the rest of the UK you can contact Coram Children’s Legal Centre/Citizens Advice.
NO If you are satisfied that the bullying has stopped then keep a watchful eye on your child – even if the behaviour has stopped, the impact is has can be long lasting. It's also worth evaluating your experience and offering to contribute to the future review of the anti-bullying policies and practices in the school.
Is the child/young person continuing to attend school?
YES There may be measures that the school can put in place to support your child to continue to attend while the situation gets resolved. These supports may include strategies such as a temporary period of late starts, a buddying or mentoring system, supported after-school activities or lunch clubs. Encourage your child to attend these and access support. Any initiative which seems to ‘exclude’ the person being bullied should only be a temporary measure put in place when there is a safety issue. If you agree to these measures then it is important to get the school to agree that it is only for a fixed period of time and is not an alternative to the situation being completely resolved.
NO If the child/young person is refusing to attend school or is truanting then you must make the school aware of the reasons why. Ask the school or Local Authority to arrange a visit from the Education Welfare Officer, Home Link Worker or whoever in the authority has the statutory duty to deal with non-attendance. As the parent/carer, if you are seen to be condoning the non-attendance you will be held responsible. A plan should be put in place for a supported return to school. If the non-attendance continues then the Local Authority may begin statutory proceedings to force attendance at school or look at alternative arrangements.
For advice on what to do if your child has been bullying another child, click here.
To find out more about Respect Me, click here.